FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When last we saw the Baltimore Ravens, rookie Justin Tucker was kicking a 27-yard field goal on the last play to beat the New England Patriots.
That was on Sept. 23, a 31-30 loss that dropped the Patriots to 1-2 and prompted Coach Bill Belichick to chase down an official and grab him, resulting in a $50,000 fine.
When next we see the Ravens, the stakes will be a little higher.
The Patriots will play Baltimore for the second consecutive year in the AFC championship game at 6:30 p.m. Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
You should expect a tight game because that’s the way it is when these teams play.
Their last four regular-season meetings have been decided by three (27-24), six (27-21), three (23-20 in overtime) and one (31-30).
The Patriots beat the Ravens in last year’s conference title game 23-20, escaping when Bill Cundiff missed a 32-yard field goal with 15 seconds left to advance to the Super Bowl.
“I think it comes down to the last drive,” said Patriots defensive end/linebacker Rob Ninkovich, asked to define the rivalry. “One or two possessions throughout the whole game that really affect the outcome.
“So ball security and turnovers is something that is really going to go a long way in this game.”
One of the reasons the games are so close, said Ninkovich, is the teams play similar styles: “physical and tough.”
Both defenses play a turnover-inducing style — the Patriots led the NFL in the regular season with a plus-25 turnover ratio while the Ravens were tied for eighth at plus-9 — and the offenses are capable of hard running or deep passing.
More than that, both are mentally tough, as evidenced last weekend.
The Ravens went on the road last week, got a 70-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco — the only quarterback in NFL history to win a playoff game in each of his first five seasons — to Jacoby Jones with 31 seconds left in regulation.
They won on a 47-yard field goal by Turner in the second overtime to beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos in Denver, 38-35.
The Patriots lost top offensive threats Rob Gronkowski and Danny Woodhead to injuries in the first quarter, but still put up 42 points on a pretty good Houston defense.
Tom Brady, in his seventh AFC championship game in 12 seasons, threw for three touchdowns, two to reserve back Shane Vereen. Vereen became only the third player in NFL playoff history with two touchdown receptions and a touchdown run, joining Roger Craig and Ricky Watters.
“It’s a big challenge for us this week,” said Belichick. “We know they’re tough physically and mentally. They’re a real competitive team. I don’t think any situation is too big for them. We’ll just have to play our best here on Sunday.”
Asked if he thought the Ravens were a complete team, Belichick said, “They’re really a solid organization, probably one of the top organizations in the (NFL) from top to bottom, from the owner all the way down to their practice squad players.”
Cue John Harbaugh, the Ravens’ coach, on his thoughts on New England:
“It’s definitely grown into quite a rivalry, we would like to say. I don’t know how they feel about that. They just have a tremendous staff, tremendous players, tremendous tradition, and it’s always a huge challenge for us. But it is one that we are excited about and that we look forward to.”
If the Patriots have an edge, it may be in the game site. New England has the highest playoff home winning percentage (14-3, .824) in NFL history, and is 4-0 in home conference championship games.
Of course, the Ravens know they can beat the Patriots at Gillette because they did it in the playoffs two years ago, a convincing 33-14 wild-card thumping to close out New England’s 2009 season.
Vince Wilfork, the Patriots’ immovable object in the middle of the defensive line, said New England needs to bring its best this time against the Ravens, something they didn’t do in the third week of this season when they lost a nine-point fourth-quarter lead.
“You basically have to play your best football against them and try to make plays, but plays won’t come easily against this team,” he said.
“They showed last week what they can do. It’s just a team that has a lot of fight in them. No matter what it is, they have a lot of fight and it starts with Ray (Lewis) and what he brings to the team.
“We’re up for the challenge and it’s going to be another one. It’s going to be a physical football game but we’ve been there before.”
Always, it seems, against these Ravens.
Staff Writer Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or at: